At the beginning of the 20th century, when 12-string guitars first appeared in the United States, the instruments were considered novelty items, curiosities, freaks of guitar making that were beneath the dignity of serious companies like Martin and Gibson. But when Blind Willie McTell picked up a Stella 12-string in 1927, and then basically never put it down, the instrument was suddenly legitimized.
A folk singer named Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, had actually made the Stella 12-string his own earlier, in 1912, but Lead Belly had so many scrapes with the law and spent so much time in prison that he wouldn’t get a chance to popularize the ringing tones of the 12-string until the 1930s and ’40s. Even then, his biggest hit, “Good Night Irene,” came after his death in 1949.
Pete Seeger and the Weavers kept the 12-string sound alive until the 1960s, when groups like the Rooftop Singers (“Walk Right In”) made it the go-to instrument on the commercial folk scene. Gibson was ready with its B-45 in 1961 and its B-25 in 1962, while Martin got on board a bit later with its D12-20 in 1964 and D12-35 in 1965.
The loudest noise in 12-strings, though, was made by Rickenbacker, thanks to a custom, one-of-a-kind 12-string version of its 325 hollowbody electric guitar made in 1964 for John Lennon of the Beatles. George Harrison also became a Rickenbacker acolyte, playing his Rickenbacker 360 12-string on songs like "A Hard Day’s Night."
One musician who liked that sound a lot was Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. Reportedly, he bought a 360-12 after seeing the movie named after of the famous Beatles song. He went on to play a 12-string on one of the Byrds’ biggest hits, “Turn Turn Turn.”
By the late 1970s, newer companies like Taylor made acoustic 12-strings part of their lines. Once again, a key musician would cement the instrument's sound in our collective soundtrack. In this case it was Neil Young who, while vacationing in Florida, purchased a Taylor 12-string, an 855, at a local music shop. Young liked his 855 so much he ordered a second, and Taylor subsequently gained widespread recognition when Young’s 855 figured prominently in his concert film, "Rust Never Sleeps."
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Maimann: Diamond Mind rocks new releaseEdmonton Sun, March 26th
They do, however, add some 12-string guitar to the mix on the new album. Trimble is worried some people won't respond well to the change, after the Fake Tape E.P. scored unexpected and overwhelmingly positive reviews online. “I'm kind of nervous about ...Read more
Have you seen this distinctive guitar stolen in South Devon?Torquay Herald Express, March 26th
POLICE are appealing for information after a distinctive electric guitar was stolen from a van in South Devon. The black and white Danelectro 12-string guitar was stolen from a white Vauxhall van parked in Seaton Avenue, in Plymouth, between 5.30am and ...Read more
Tom VandenAvond & WoebegoneThe Source Weekly, March 25th
With a fiddle, standup bass, 12-string guitar and lead electric guitar, Polecat plays nearly as many stringed instruments as will fit onstage in creating its folky-roots jams. A former Bend resident, Tollefson's baritone voice resonates through his pop...Read more
Have you seen this distinctive guitar in Plymouth?Plymouth Herald, March 25th
POLICE are appealing for information after a distinctive electric guitar was stolen from a van in Plymouth. The black and white Danelectro 12-string guitar was stolen from a white Vauxhall van parked in Seaton Avenue, in Mutley, between 5.30am and 6...Read more
The Smiths' guitar legend Johnny Marr to publish his memoirs, just like former ...Gloucestershire Echo, March 23rd
But one of rock's fiercest rivalries is moving to the bookshelves after it was announced The Smiths' guitarist Johnny Marr is following his former songwriting partner, Morrissey, and publishing his memoirs. Marr, whose trademark 12-string guitar sound...Read more
Critical Mass Lead Belly legacyArkansas Online, March 15th
Start with the sound, the moan and sting of his 12-string guitar, a wobbling, low-frequency drone punctuated by throbbing bass runs and/or the knitting stab of syncopated arpeggios that hang like bloodied rags on barbed wire. It is too easy to call it...Read more
'King Of The 12-String Guitar': Lead Belly's Legend Lives OnWABE 90.1 FM, February 23rd
George Harrison famously said, "No Lead Belly ... no Beatles." Musicians as diverse as The Weavers and Kurt Cobain have played Lead Belly's songs to enthusiastic audiences, but many Americans sing his lyrics without ever realizing that he wrote them...Read more
12-String Setup SecretsPremier Guitar, February 9th
A handful of musicians have built their careers around the 12-string guitar—Lead Belly, Leo Kottke, and Roger McGuinn come to mind—but for most guitarists, an electric or acoustic 12-string is a specialty instrument to be hauled out when a song needs...Read more